Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that are very similar to bed and breakfasts. They offer some of the most quintessential Japanese experiences: tatami mat rooms, onsens, and seasonal Japanese meals! With the level of offerings, one might think that the experience is prohibitively expensive, but contrary to popular belief, you can enjoy a stay at a ryokan on a budget.
1. Decide what you want in a ryokan.
Ryokans come in different sizes and flavors. Some Ryokans are located in urban centers and others are located in rural locales. When I booked my ryokan, I wanted to stay in the country. I thoroughly enjoyed having a view of the river and mountains from my room.
Some Ryokans have a base rate and offer meals as an add-on. For instance, If you love a Japanese breakfast and other meals are not of interest, you might be able to add breakfast and not have the full package that includes all of your meals.
2. Get a ryokan in the countryside.
Urbanites in Japan, like everywhere else, retreat to the countryside in order to get away from their hectic day-to-day lives. Staying in the countryside can afford you the opportunity to experience Japan as a local instead of a tourist.
If you are worried about how you will access the countryside . . . don’t worry! Japan’s public transportation is quite extensive, and you will be able to find a ryokan located in the vicinity of public transportation. Some ryokans are serviced by buses and others may operate a private shuttle.
3. Choose a late dinner and an early breakfast at check-in.
During the check-in process, the innkeeper will ask you to choose your meal times. The innkeeper asks for this information to make sure that your stay is as seamless as possible. During the time you are at your meal, housekeeping staff will prepare your room for bedtime or for daytime use.
I recommend a late dinner, especially if you are just arriving, so that you can get acclimated to the facility and get some onsen time. If you are an early bird like me, you will enjoy an early breakfast so that you can get your day started as soon as possible. Whether you plan on antiquing, hiking, exploring the town, or of course . . . taking advantage of some onsen time, having an early breakfast will give you plenty of time to make the most of your day.
4. Get acquainted with the yukata.
At the ryokan, you have the option of wearing the yukata. The yukata is a Japanese robe that is made for lounging. You can wear underwear underneath . . . or not. It is up to you. During my stay, I chose to wear shorts underneath for my own comfort.
5. If you can, explore the town.
If you are in the countryside, there are great opportunities for hiking and general exploration. Many visitors visit rural ryokans to go hiking. Some ryokans will even have flyers and pamphlets for local happenings in the area.
6. Use the ryokan’s private onsens.
If you only want onsen time, that is perfectly fine too! During my stay at the ryokan, I spent most of my time soaking my cares away.
One of the great benefits of staying at a ryokan is the availability of private onsens. Yes! These are onsens that you can book in advance and which are available for your private use. If you have tattoos and want to have the onsen experience, this is also a good option, since many onsens to do not allow customers with tattoos.
There you have it—six tips to getting the most out of your stay at a ryokan. I hope that these tips will get you excited about your stay and take away any fears you may have.